10th Mar2015

‘John Wick’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, Daniel Bernhardt, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick | Written by Derek Kolstad | Directed by Chad Stahelski


Keanu Reeves has, in recent years, seemingly been making headway in to the action genre with films like 47 Ronin and Man of Tai Chi.Gone are the days of Keanu the funny mam, Keanu the heartthrob leading man love-interest and in has come a stone-faced bearded bad-ass. Yet, whilst both the aformentioned films have there fans – me included – neither really set the genre alight. However all that changes with John Wick – a return to the R-rated, arse-kickery of the genres heyday, that isn’t afraid to get bone-crunchily violent and bullet-riddled with blood…

John Wick features Keanu Reeves in the titular role – a hitman who left the business five years ago after finding the love of a good woman. A woman who, when we first meet John, has since passed away leaving him with only his beloved dog to keep him company. A dog who is killed by the son of a Russian mobster in the midst of the theft of Wick’s car… It’s enough to drive a former hitman mad. Mad enough to come out of retirement and hunt down his dogs killer and EVERYONE who stand in his way.

I know that synopsis sounds ridiculous, after all what sane man would kill in revenge of his dogs death? Maybe get a little angry, then cry a lot. But John Wick is a killer and the death of his dog is only the trigger for him to get a little… stress relief… and cope with his grief in the only way a former killer can. Kill again. And boy, does Keanu leave a bloodbath in his wake. Bodies pile up in Rambo 4 fashion, headshot after headshot. It’s visceral, it’s violent and it’s bloody. Bloody good fun!

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a Hollywood action film as unrelentingly violent as John Wick. We’ve had films like The Raid and its sequel, and the excellent – and criminally underseen – Sony/Crackle production Extraction but there hasn’t been an R-rated action flick like this, complete with a big-name star, in years. It’s all PG-13 watered-down violence these days, the kind we used to see on TV in The A-Team in the 80s, the kind of violence that Hollywood, the MPAA and the BBFC think will appeal to the widest common denominator and rake in cash from teenage boys across the globe.

Action-loving adults have all but been forgotten at the multiplex, having to make do with teen-friendly films like The Expendables 3. So for me, John Wick is a breath of (blood-filled) fresh air, reminiscent of both the dark Charles Bronson revenge thrillers of the 80s and the works of Far East maestros Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam – and all from a former stunt man turned first-time feature director(s).

Yes, Chad Stahelski  and uncredited co-director David Leitch – who helm from a script by Derek Kolstad, who penned the Austin/Lundgren action flick The Package and the risible One in the Chamber – have seemingly parlayed their experiences on many an action movie (Stahelski and Leitch both worked on The Matrix trilogy) into an accomplished first film and what is set to be the first in a, hopefully, well-received [eventual] trilogy. And I’m totally along for the ride.

***** 5/5

John Wick is released in UK cinemas on April 10th.


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